I Spy Someone making a difference.
University Housing area director lives her workby Mona Prufer
Laura Arroyo hasn't been an undergraduate college student for 10 years, and yet she lives on campus.
As area director of University Housing for the past two years, living on campus is a requirement of the job. It allows her to experience firsthand the issues that Coastal Carolina University students face while living in the residence halls.
"The best thing about living on campus is the connection to students," says Arroyo. "When students complain about their housing facilities, I have the ability to also say that I live in myself; in turn, I become less of 'the other,' and more of 'one of them.'"
But then, you are living where you work, and that can have its drawbacks.
"While this working/living arrangement can be convenient," says Arroyo, "creating work/life balance is a constant struggle, and at times it can feel as if you are married to your work."
Arroyo, who is from northeastern Pennsylvania, was hired in the summer of 2009 to the new position of area director of housing, which is responsible for the daily operation of the Resident Director staff. The staff has grown so quickly, along with the student population, that an additional area director has been hired, Coretta Walker, joining the nine resident directors and 80 student resident assistants. Steve Harrison is director of University Housing.
In addition to supervising and overseeing the housing staff, Arroyo plans the student success programs for first- and second-year students, deals with medical and mental health issues, is involved with high-level student conduct issues and is working hard with committee members to implement a new student program called Safe Zone.
The Safe Zone Program started last year on the CCU campus; it's a program that supports cultural diversity and the needs of lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender/queer (LGBTQ) students, faculty and staff. Over the spring and summer, some 90 staff and faculty members have completed the training for the Safe Zone program sends a message that different sexual orientations and gender presentations are part of our culture and are acknowledged and supported.
"It's all about making people feel supported," says Arroyo, who is passionate about social justice and whose undergraduate and graduate degrees are in social work. "It also helps improve retention." Colorful Safe Zone stickers with rainbows are affixed to Laura's door and to all the doors of those who have taken the training to provide safe haven for those who need it.
Though the reams of paperwork she deals with are her least favorite part of the job, Arroyo enjoys the variety that each day brings.
"I love the ability to make this job my own," she says. "It's hard work, but it's meaningful work, and I work closely with students, parents and staff. The emergencies keep you hopping; you never know what a day might bring."
Jennie Cassidy, director of Counseling Services, who has worked with Arroyo on the Safe Zone program and training, nominated Arroyo for I Spy recognition. Cassidy writes of Arroyo's "tireless work and enthusiasm" in leading five of the seven training sessions and bringing in an outside consultant who helped set up the program.
"She presents with poise and thoughtfulness," Cassidy writes in her nomination. "Laura challenges her audience to think about issues, but does so in a way that makes it safe for them to explore and share their opinions. She is always so positive in her attitude and kind to those around her. She's done so much to help CCU be a safer place for students."
Prior to CCU, Arroyo was community development coordinator for the Department of Residence Life at Brandeis University, Waltham, Mass., and residence hall director for the Department of Residential Life at the University of Bridgeport in Connecticut.
She is married to Alex Arroyo, who is store manager of Target in Lexington, so they are frequently on the road on weekends, driving to one of their apartments.
"I've been in a multiracial relationship for six years, and we live in the South, so we've had some interesting experiences," says Arroyo. "I'm an open book. Social justice is incredibly important to me, both in my experiences with colleagues and students as well as personally."